Tokyo Heterotopia: Akira Takayama’s exploration of urban otherness is now an iPhone app

Tokyo Heterotopia, Akira Takayama and Port B’s theatrical investigation into otherness in Tokyo and Japanese society, has been reborn as a digital app.

The Tokyo Heterotopia iOS app is much more than just an audio tour. It is an interactive theatrical experience that is site-specific and meditative.

tokyo hetereotopia iphone ios app akira takayama port b

The project first appeared at Festival/Tokyo 2013, where participants departed from the festival centre on solo journeys around Tokyo in search of thirteen sites linked to Asian communities and immigration, where they then listened to special narrated stories (in Japanese) constructed out of interviews and research into immigrant lives. Tokyo Heterotopia was then adapted into Yokohama Commune, a video installation at the Yokohama Triennale 2014 and then a “live installation” in the Koganecho area of the city.

tokyo hetereotopia iphone ios app akira takayama port b

tokyo hetereotopia iphone ios app akira takayama port b

tokyo hetereotopia iphone ios app akira takayama port b

Whereas for F/T13 the participant received a booklet with maps and guidance, now that same information has been integrated into the app, along with the audio experience. The texts are written by Masatsugu Ono, Wen Yuju, Yusuke Kimura, and Keijiro Suga, and read by a number of people, including many non-Japanese residents.

The original cluster of locations will be expanded over the next few years, with the aim to create an archive of more than 100 sites by the 2020 Olympic Games. The app is currently only available for iPhone 6 but an Android version is under development.

A launch event will be held on April 12th at Tokyo Camii, a mosque in Yoyogi-Uehara — and a perfect example of a hidden community in Tokyo.

tokyo hetereotopia iphone ios app akira takayama port b

These motifs of movement, migration and participatory theatre, not to mention the use of a radio transistor and maps, are common tropes in Takayama’s work. He has also explored theatre as a touristic tool (and vice versa, tourism as a medium of theatre) in earlier work such as Tokyo / Olympics (a 2007 Hato Bus tour of 1964 Olympic Games sites) and The Complete Manual of Evacuation (created in Tokyo in 2010 around the JR Yamanote Line and then to great success in the Frankfurt Rhine-Main region in 2014).

The word heterotopia is a term coined by Michel Foucault, meaning spaces of otherness neither here nor there.

As we move towards the 2020 Olympics and the government continues to bloviate about increasing inbound tourism, an app like Tokyo Heterotopia presents one original answer to how sightseeing and art can truly collaborate. It celebrates otherness and takes us to new places, but also disquiets the participant and their preconceived notions of Tokyo identity.


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